Boutique Ecommerce Brands Consider TV Advertising

TVecommEcommerce startups have turned toward television advertising, signaling shifting interest from reaching a niche group of consumers to mass audiences.

Some, such as subscription ecommerce startup Birchbox, are investing money in the medium for the first time. Birchbox debuted its “Open For Beautiful” television campaign Monday, which will be supplemented with shoppable online video and print creative. Media and entertainment platform Popsugar launched last fall its first, $25 million TV ad campaign for startup ShopStyle, which it acquired in 2007.

“I have seen [traditionally] digital advertisers go to TV for what TV does well: creating awareness, [an] emotional connection and [to] build brands,” said Krista Lang, SVP and executive media director for independent agency 22squared. “They might also be doing it to attract investors and talent.”

For flash sale site Gilt, television reinforces its digital presence and provides a forum to tell new stories. Its newest campaign launched digitally with pre-roll ads on YouTube and social channels, then extended via national TV buys in the US and Canada.

“This has been an effective way for us to advertise and drive awareness of the Gilt brand across multiple platforms on a national level,” said Elizabeth Francis, CMO of Gilt.

Unlike Birchbox and Popsugar, Gilt first experimented with TV two years ago with a campaign showcasing its “gaming” element – the rush of shoppers storming the site for the flash sale at noon. This initial push was primarily about awareness. But as ecommerce brands shift focus away from flash sales, they’re trying to encourage deeper connections and longer user sessions. These goals have created new demand for television ads.

Consequently, Gilt’s second TV campaign, which it launched in March, is less about educating consumers as it is about emotionally connecting with the joy of shopping cross-device. Francis noted more than 40% of Gilt revenue now comes from mobile Web and Gilt apps, which spurred the creative idea for the latest campaign – the thrill of shopping Gilt on a mobile device.

A Gilt TV commercial still
Gilt’s “Make It Yours” commercial still.

Daily deals site Groupon, which recently resurrected TV ad commitments following a media firestorm that erupted over its Super Bowl 2011 campaign, began in April a seven-week television campaign in six key markets.

A Groupon spokesperson tells AdExchanger the medium is “another great way to deliver the message that Groupon has evolved from a daily deal website into a searchable ecommerce marketplace with more than 200,000 deals accessible online and via mobile devices.” However, the company is not approaching television in a silo, but instead as a broader communications access point in addition to mobile push alerts and email.

Although television has traditionally been considered a brand awareness tool, for many commerce startups, it’s also a medium to reinforce messages that had once been relegated to digital channels. Birchbox’s CMO Deena Bahri, for instance, said her company wanted the “Open for Beautiful” platform to extend performance marketing media and utilize a stronger CTA meant to drive direct conversion.

“We invest a lot of time to ensure our key messages across paid, earned and owned channels are consistent and tie into the brand and business strategy, in order to maximize the impact of what we are saying,” she commented. “Open For Beautiful is an example of that, where we are delivering executions across all three types of media.”

“We believe in a diverse portfolio of paid and earned, organic [content] at Gilt,” Gilt’s Francis concurred. “We consider all of this when we’re planning advertising and marketing programming for the year. For us, paid advertising through TV has been a great addition to our historically digital-only advertising strategy.”


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